NEW Effective Ways to Fight Grazing After WLS

7 Effective Ways to Fight Grazing After WLS

May 8, 2017

Grazing after WLS is a common problem faced by both pre and post-operative clients. Many people graze when they are feeling bored, unstimulated, distressed, or just stuck in a pattern of habit. The problem with grazing is that we tend to underestimate how much we eat while we are doing it. Having some grapes here, a couple of nuts there, and a few chips later can add up to a substantial amount of calories by the end of the day, and will eventually lead to weight regain.

Furthermore, continuing to graze reinforces this maladaptive habit, and it can condition us to use food to cope with unpleasant emotions or boredom, which is not something you want to develop if you don’t do it already. The good news is there are several strategies you can use to prevent yourself from grazing.

7 Ways to Control Grazing After WLS

1. Define your meals and snacks

As a new post-operative patient, you may find yourself in the grazing trap due to not having room in your pouch to eat good sized meals. This is normal. Your stomach is smaller now, and your meals will be too, so you have to change the way you think about them. Maybe you want to do three meals and two snacks, or maybe you’d prefer six small meals with no snacks - it doesn’t matter, just choose a pattern that works for you. Once you’ve chosen your pattern, stick to it.

If it is almost dinner time and you’re tempted to munch on something, remind yourself that your meal is coming soon, and grazing would ruin your appetite for the meal you’ve worked so hard to make!

2. Catch yourself before you start grazing

You may find that you graze without thinking about it on a conscious level. If this is the case, you need to work on recognizing and changing this behavior. Any time you notice yourself opening the fridge and looking around for food between meals, catch yourself. Literally say “stop”, either out loud or in your head, and think about what you are doing. Examine why you are doing it. Maybe you are bored, maybe you are sad, maybe you are accustomed to eating while watching TV and you’re grabbing your snack to watch Netflix.

Whatever the reason, assess why you’re doing it, so you can pick up on your patterns. If you identify that you are doing it because you are bored, it’s time to find something else to do.

3. Go for a walk or hit the gym

I know you’ve heard this one before, but it’s for a good reason - it works! Both eating and physical activity cause the release of your body’s own opioids and dopamine, which physically make you feel good. If you’re grazing for entertainment, replace it with exercise to help you get that same feeling without food. Even better you are killing two birds with one stone by getting in your exercise and avoiding grazing at the same time.

4. Do something with your hands

We only have two hands, which means if we are using them for a project or activity, they are not available for eating. You can use this to your advantage when you are trying to avoid grazing. Think about some activities that you like to do with your hands. Do you like to craft? Crochet? Knit? Paint? Draw? Do puzzles? Woodwork? Color? Play video games? Organize? Play fetch with your dog? Whatever you like to do, do it!

Next time the urge to graze strikes, pick up your pencil or knitting needles and get creative instead. You’ll end up getting so involved in the activity that the urge to eat will go by the wayside, and before you know it, it will actually be time for your next meal.

5. Relax your mind

If you are preoccupied with eating when you’re not hungry, sometimes it’s your mind that needs the distraction. Try immersing your mind somewhere else, by picking up a book, listening to music, meditating, deep breathing, or taking a hot shower. All of these activities can serve to relax you and prevent grazing after WLS.

If you’ve never tried some of these techniques before, and you feel a little funny about them, YouTube is a great resource to find relaxing music and guided meditation videos. Grab your iPod and headphones, and find a quiet place to relax.

6. Connect with others

We tend to underestimate the power of human connection. The next time you feel the urge to graze, pick up the phone and call a friend instead. You can talk to them about your struggles directly, or you can talk about something completely unrelated, whatever you think would help you get through this rough spot.

Another option is to proactively make plans with others during times that you know you tend to graze. If you know you tend to have trouble on weekend nights, maybe plan to go to your friend’s house Friday night and play board games instead. Alternatively, you can join online or in-person support groups for bariatric surgery. Check with your surgery center to see if they provide these groups so you can connect with others that are facing similar challenges and share strategies.

7. Practice, practice, practice

Right now, grazing after WLS is your brain’s natural response to a variety of situations. Because this pattern has become so deeply ingrained in your mind, it’s going to take a lot of practice to change it. The more you practice replacing grazing with the above strategies, the easier it will become. At first, you will have to put in a lot of conscious effort into catching yourself and redirecting your actions, but eventually, your new behaviors will become natural responses and grazing will become a thing of the past.

Alysha Gebo MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian at Steward Centers for Weight Control

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Alysha Bruso


Alysha Gebo MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in obesity management and bariatric surgery. She works for the Steward Centers for Weight Control at two clinics on the south shore of Massachusetts. Alysha received her Undergraduate degree in dietetics from Framingham State University, and her Masters degree in Psychology, specializing in disordered eating, from California Southern University.

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